Ben Sheldon

Head of Department, Luc Hoffmann Professor of Ornithology, Director of the Edward Grey Institute

Professorial Fellow of Wolfson College


Research Interests

I have broad interests in evolution, ecology and behaviour in wild populations, with a particular focus on understanding the causes and consequences of individual variation. My empirical work uses wild bird populations as a model, particularly exploiting insights drawn from long-term population studies such as that of the great tit in Wytham Woods. My research group typically consists of 4-5 postdocs and associated fellows, and 5-6 graduate students. Current research themes include: (1) Social ecology of wild bird populations; (2) Adaptation and constraint in phenotypic plasticity; (3) Ecology and epidemiology of avian malaria; (4) Ecological genetics of life-history characters. We use a combination of field observations and experiments, quantitative and molecular genetic analysis, to understand these problems.

Our recent work has been funded by grants from BBSRC, NERC and the ERC; the latter project ("Evolutionary Social Ecology") developed a new system for collecting very large-scale data on movements and association rates for thousands of individually-marked birds using a grid of automated detectors. My most recent NERC grant (2013-16) addresses the effect of spatial, temporal and develomental constraints on adaptive plasticity, using phenological matching in the tri-trophic oak-winter moth-great tit system, while my most recent BBSRC grant (2014-2017) tests mechanisms of social learning in wild birds.

Additional Information

In 2004 I was elected as the inaugural holder of the Luc Hoffmann Chair in Field Ornithology and appointed Director of the Edward Grey Institute, a research institute based within the Department of Zoology. Please follow this link for more information about the institute, its personnel, and our work.

I have been Head of Department since October 2016



PA: HoD: Sharon Cornwell
EGI: Lynne Bradley; 01865 271275

Selected Publications

  • Firth, J.A. & Sheldon, B.C. 2016. Social carry-over effects underpin trans-seasonally linked structure in a wild bird population. Ecology Letters, in press.

  • Firth, J.A., Voelkl, B., Farine, D.R. & Sheldon, B.C. 2015. Experimental evidence that social relationships shape individual foraging behaviour. Current Biology 25, 3138-3143.

  • Hinks, A.E., Cole, E.F., Fannon, K., Wilkin, T.A., Nakagawa, S. & Sheldon, B.C. 2015. Scale-dependent phenological synchrony between songbirds and their caterpillar food source. Amer. Nat. 186, 84-97.

  • Aplin, L.M., Farine, D.R., Morand-Ferron, J., Cockburn, A., Thornton, A. & Sheldon, B.C. 2015. Experimentally induced innovations lead to persistent culture via conformity in wild birds. Nature 518, 538-541.

  • Vedder, O., Bouwhuis, S. & Sheldon, B.C. 2013. Quantitative assessment of the importance of phenotypic plasticity in adaptation to climate change in wild bird populations. PLOS Biology 11, e1001605.

  • Aplin, L.M., Farine, D.R., Morand-Ferron, J. & Sheldon, B.C. 2012. Social networks predict patch discovery in a wild population of songbirds. Proc R Soc B 279, 4199-4205.
  • Clutton-Brock, T.H. & Sheldon, B.C. 2010. Individuals and populations: the role of long-term, individual-based studies in ecology and evolutionary biology. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 25, 562-573.